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Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: 40 Acres and a Burro

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Arturo O'Farrill leading his Latin Jazz Orchestra at CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival 2010
Arturo O'Farrill

Since ending its affiliation with Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2002, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra has grown more adventurous, its leader travelling well beyond his Afro-Cuban roots. The musical exploration continues on 40 Acres and a Burro, which has the big-band digging deeper into the textures and rhythms of South America and the Caribbean, along the way giving showcase spots to a variety of arrangers and a long list of superb soloists.

O’Farrill’s band does right by Dizzy Gillespie, enlivening “A Night in Tunisia” with fresh syncopations, quick breaks for drums and percussion, trombone crunch-downs and bracing solo work from trumpeter John Walsh and others. They salute another major influence, Arturo’s father, Chico O’Farrill, with his arrangement of “Almendra,” bolstered by Pablo Bilbraut’s güiro (a Dominican percussion instrument) and offering open space for bassist Ricardo Rodriguez, trombonist Tokunori Kajiwara and trumpeter Seneca Black.

The band travels to Mexico for the title track, a sprawling suite replete with references to a braying burro and mariachi music, and a rare featured spot for O’Farrill’s galvanizing piano playing. Also stretching across several sections and themes is “A Wise Latina,” its title a reference to the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court. The piece twists and turns, with various figures seemingly arguing with each other, before shifting into a final celebratory passage jolted by the sky-scraping declarations of trumpeter Jim Seeley.

O’Farrill and company also explore the Peruvian festejo rhythms and swelling melodies of Gabriel Alegria’s “El Sur,” and the Argentinian sound of Astor Piazzolla’s swaying “Tanguango.” They visit Brazil via Pixinguinha’s “Um a Zero” and Hermeto Pascoal’s “Bebe,” both featuring Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet. And on the traditional “She Moves Through the Fair,” Afro-Latin meets Celtic, replete with Heather Martin Bixler’s wandering violin. Who knew?

Originally Published